I think about ladders during the Christmas season.

In the beginning, the Lord dwelled, in all his fullness and glory, in heaven. Yet he came to earth and began to fashion it into his dwelling. There was a ladder—a vertical bridge—between heaven and earth. The full project would take time, but God made visits and walked with us during those visits.

When we turned from the Lord, the distance between us became greater, and human history then became one long obsession about that distance. Life could only be found in being close to God, yet we preferred to get close on our own terms. The tower of Babel was the first of many aborted attempts to make a ladder to God in our own strength. Now, instead of towers, we try to create righteousness in ourselves by our haphazard attempts at being good or religious, but our attempts to climb the ladder still fail.

Yet God’s plan was to bridge heaven and earth, and he was still going to do it. He came close and spoke to people—Abraham, Moses, Job and others. He made promises that he would bless, which means that he must be close because blessing is dependent on his presence.

When Jacob had doubts about God’s promises, he was given a glimpse into heavenly realities. He saw a ladder, and “the angels of God were ascending and descending on it,” and the Lord stood above it. (Genesis 28:12–13). The vision is clear: heaven will, in fact, come to earth. The two will connect.

With this vision in mind, Jesus spoke to Nathaniel. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).” The ladder is the same. Angels are freely going between two realms. What is different is that God, once seen at the top of the ladder, is now on earth. The Lord—the Son of Man, the Ancient of Days, Jesus the Christ—has descended, in all humility and love. In the weakness of a baby, he came to us and the distance between heaven and earth was forever changed.

Just one more ascent. In his death, resurrection, and ascent into heaven, he became the enthroned One. From there, his first official act was to give us his Spirit, who descends and is present with us while we remain on earth. Christ did this for those who trust in him, and he did it with us. When we trust him, our life becomes wrapped into his, so we ourselves now traverse the ladder with him.

Christmas is the time we remember that God came down, which had always been the plan. The ladder, once the domain of angels, has become a level path—a well traveled highway—on which we walk freely with Immanuel.